No 59, no Tour record, but Lefty’s in control

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Through 35 holes at TPC Scottsdale, Phil Mickelson was nearly perfect. After a course-record 60 in the opening round Thursday, the local favorite was poised to set a PGA Tour record for 36 holes with yet a single bogey to his name.

But just as the Tour-record 59 for a single round eluded Mickelson on Thursday, so too did the two-round record thanks to a double bogey on the 18th hole Friday. Regardless, Mickelson looks about as untouchable as he ever has through two rounds at TPC Scottsdale, and he’ll take a four-stroke lead into the weekend with momentum on his side.

“I didn’t get off to the fastest start (today), but I was patient,” Mickelson said after shooting a 6-under 65 to sit at 17 under. “It’ll be an interesting weekend.”

In his career, Mickelson has converted more than half of his 36-hole leads into victories — 16 of 28. Friday’s round marked Mickelson’s best follow-up round to any of the five best rounds of his career. He will play Saturday with Bill Haas, who finished four strokes back Friday, and Ryder Cup partner Keegan Bradley, who sits five strokes back after an 8-under 63 in the second round.

After flirting with history Thursday, Mickelson did come out slow Friday, not building on the 11-under lead he brought into the day until birdying the par-3 seventh hole. That’s where he began to heat up.

From the seventh through 13th holes, Mickelson birdied five of seven, including consecutive birdies on 11, 12 and 13. It was on the dangerous par-5 15th hole and its island green, however, that Mickelson looked like a man possessed.

“I hit a really good drive there,” Mickelson said. “I felt really comfortable on the tee box, so I kind of let one go and caught a hold of it.”

That might be an understatement. His monstrous drive went 358 yards to the right fairway, coming to rest 194 yards from the hole. While the others in Mickelson’s group, Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner, put their second shots in the water in front the green, Mickelson placed his ball an easy four feet from the hole.

Mickelson easily sank that putt for eagle and was again in range of PGA Tour history.

“That was a nice little bonus there,” Mickelson said.

The raucous gallery at the 16th welcomed Mickelson as always — with the day’s loudest cheers — but spared him nothing as well, booing when his tee shot bounced just off the green, eight yards from the hole. Apparently not even a local legend at 18 under can catch a break at the legendary 16th.

With a par there and a birdie on the 17th, Mickelson needed only par on the 18th for a new 36-hole course and Tour record of 123. But in the first sign of Mickelson’s mortality this week, his tee shot landed in the water left of the fairway — his first missed fairway of the tournament.

Mickelson still had a shot to tie the two-round record with a bogey, but the double bogey cut his lead to 17 under.

“I didn’t finish the way I wanted to,” Mickelson said. “But I think it’s a good example of what can happen on this course. You can make a lot of birdies and eagles, make up a lot of ground, but there’s a lot of water and trouble there, so if you misstep you can easily make bogeys and doubles.”

Considering Mickelson played 35 holes of near-flawless golf, we’re willing to let the one misstep slide and say there’s more to come from Lefty this weekend. Mickelson himself seemed to think the flub on 18 could help him heading into the third round, perhaps serving as a reminder not to get caught up in his own hot hand.

“It’s very possible that’s going to help me,” Mickelson said. “It’s got me refocused that I cannot ease up on a single shot.”

If Mickelson is right, that’s bad news for the rest of the field. No matter how good Haas or Bradley or anyone else plays, if Mickelson continues like playing the way he has through the first two rounds, there’s no stopping his quest to become the fourth three-time winner at TPC.

But with the especially low scores seen through two rounds — the cut was at 4 under — Mickelson knows his lead is not safe. As untouchable as he might look now, a lot can change over the course of 36 holes. After all, Spencer Levin held a five-stroke lead through two rounds last year and collapsed on Sunday to finish in a tie for third.

“I think it’s going to be kind of a shootout, where a lot of guys will be making runs, Mickelson said. “It will be up to me and the other guys in the last group to get going as well.”

Mickelson doesn’t need another 60 or that elusive 59. He doesn’t need to take risks and look for eagles. Another two rounds of this steady, mostly mistake-free dominance and Mickelson will have his first win of the season.